Nursing Home Staff Willingness To Take Vaccine Jumps 94% Since December

March 23, 2021, Alex Spanko, Skilled Nursing News - Vaccine hesitancy among nursing home and senior living workers has substantially declined since the first shots received emergency approval last December, according to a new industry survey.  About 62% of post-acute and senior living workers polled by software firm OnShift indicated that they would be willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, up from 32% in a similar survey conducted at the end of 2020.  That’s a 94% increase in positive sentiment around the shots, the Cleveland-baed OnShift reported. 

“We are encouraged to see this seismic shift across the industry in the acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine in just a few short months,” OnShift CEO Mark Woodka said in a statement.  “This insight into the mindset of senior care employees is critical information for providers and the industry as they continue staff outreach, education, and support.” 

About 39% of surveyed workers in December indicated that they did not plan to take the shot, a number that had fallen to 23% by March, according to OnShift, for a 41% drop in outright rejection.

As of this month, 53% of workers reported having already rolled up their sleeves for the vaccines, with 9% saying they would as soon as they could — and 7% were waiting to see how others potentially reacted to the shots.

Nursing home staff hesitancy quickly emerged as a key problem in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in long-term care; while residents have overwhelmingly opted in, buoyed by the promise of normal visits with family and friends, worker acceptance has persistently lagged behind. 

Observers have offered several reasons for the gap, including the erosion of trust in nursing home leadership amid the waves of sickness in death seen in 2020; persistent misinformation on social media platforms; and deep-seated suspicions of the medical establishment based on historical episodes of unethical experimentation on communities of color.

Among the remaining holdouts in March, 26% said the vaccines were too new, while 23% were worried about safety and side effects.  About 10% indicated that they already had contracted COVID-19 and didn’t think they needed the shots, while just 5% were opposed to the general concept of vaccination.

When asked what it would take to convince them to be vaccinated, 28% of workers said they would require additional information about the vaccines’ safety and potential side effects; 15% indicated that they wanted to know more about how the shots work to protect against COVID-19, while 14% were interested in knowing about the potential workplace environment for those who declined the vaccines.

The most common reason for saying yes to the shots was personal, with 30% saying they agreed to protect their family and friends and an additional 13% opting in primarily to protect themselves against the virus.

OnShift conducted the survey between February 12 and March 5, with 2,300 respondents.

“This growing acceptance for the vaccines among long term care staff is extremely encouraging and echoes what we have heard from providers across the country who saw increasing uptake with each round of on-site vaccination clinics,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of top nursing home lobbying and trade group the American Health Care Association (AHCA) said in a statement.  “Now, we need public health officials to ensure long-term care is prioritized for a steady, ongoing allocation of vaccines for new hires and admissions as well as current residents and staff who have since decided to get the vaccine.”

Dr. Sunil Pandya, the new chief medical director for nursing home chain SavaSeniorCare, emphasized the importance of peer-to-peer discussions and support in boosting worker uptake at each subsequent clinic.

“They don’t have to listen to administrative people like myself or scientific [arguments]; they can just listen to each other and say, ‘You know, this wasn’t so bad,'” Pandya said in a recent interview with SNN.